In the time since I’ve last posted to this blog (which admittedly was far too long ago), I’ve traveled over 10,000 miles and raced 4 times in 3 different countries. I’ll write about my experiences racing the Palamos World Cup, Hamburg World Series, and Tiszjauvaros World Cup (semi-finals and finals) soon, but today I wanted to write about something else.
While I lived in Europe over the past 5 weeks, my typical pre-swim breakfast was a latte with a european-sized packet of sugar* and a croissant (*- While nearly everything else was smaller in Europe, the sugar packets were strangely enormous–three-times the size of their American counterparts!). There was something different about the coffee, but the croissants are what really got me. I convinced myself that the coffee tasted different because I’d just dumbed a massive pouch of sugar into it (an added bonus was I still felt healthy because I had only used one packet of sugar). But the croissants!–they had a sugar glaze which added just the right amount of flavor to the otherwise flaky roll. Sitting at the breakfast bar I’d look at the crescent pastries sparkling in the display case and think, “Wow I can’t believe I never discovered these back in the USA. I’m going to keep eating these delicious things when I get home too!”
|I’d already eaten the crossaint|
|Then I came home. On my first morning back in the US, I went to the local coffee shop and placed the order I’d perfected in Europe–only this time I did it speaking English. Just like when I was in Europe, the barista laughed at my goofy accent then fetched a latte and a croissant.|
|I’d already eaten the crossaint|
Now, don’t get me wrong it’s pretty rare that I have a meal I don’t enjoy, but something was different about the Americanized version of my standard European breakfast. The crossaint was twice as big as the ones I had in Europe and it was missing that delicious sugar glaze. My coffee tasted somehow plainer. Was it the sugar? I thought of that and added another packet, but it didn’t quite do the trick.
While not completely satisfied, I left the coffee shop satiated and was off to the pool. At the stop lights I cursed that they weren’t traffic circles instead, and when I got to the pool I thought how much happier Americans would be on the metric system.
That’s right, I said it. I think we should switch to the measurement system that makes sense. If a politician changed everything in the US to the metric system he’d be hated for a few years. FOX News would call him anti-American, and the Tea Party would probably start a campaign to have him deported. Then, slowly, people would begin to love how everything converts so much easier! Eventually public opinion would swing the politician’s favor–he’d enjoy a resurgence of popularity not seen since the fall and subsequent rise of Bill Clinton. After he died we’d probably print his face on a commemorative dollar coin for his effort to modernize our systems of measure (yes, we’d be finally be using dollar coins).
This kept happening. I was noticing differences everywhere I went. Some were positive and some were negative. I noticed differences in the way people dressed, in the time people ate their meals, in the things people did for fun, in the types of cars people drove and in the types of fuel the people put in those cars.
I’ve heard it said that the point of travel is to return home and know the place for the first time. If I hadn’t spent the past 5 weeks traveling and racing in Europe I wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual about my breakfast that morning–but I did. I traveled outside of my comfort zone, and when I returned to the “familiar” something was different.
I share this little story because I don’t think you need to travel thousands of miles or to race a bunch of triathlons to learn more about your surroundings. In a world where so much is standardized, I think it’s important to realize that there are different ways to do things. These differences are not necessarily better or worse, but I think the world would be a better place if more people were aware these differences existed.
In both sport and life, one cannot have growth without first being aware of–and somewhat dissatisfied with–one’s current situation. There are opportunities everywhere to be better. We can become better consumers, better athletes, and better citizens by realizing the choices we make shape our surroundings. We should start by deciding to make tastier croissants.